Gdańsk

All Saints' Day in Gdańsk

02 Nov 2019
If you hail from the decadent west, then October 31st is generally seen as a time for the kids to dress up in scary costumes and then pester the neighbours for free sweets. For those on the wrong side of 12, a novelty 'punch' may be thrown into the mix and you may find yourself waking up next to a witch (the warts may or may not be real). Halloween is a far cry from the traditions of All Saints’ Day (Polish: Dzień Wszystkich Świętych) and All Souls’ Day (Polish: Dzień Zaduszny or Dzień Wszystkich Zmarłych). 
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Candles for the graves of deceased family members in Oliwa Cemetery in Gdańsk.
Visitors moving about in the evening will discover a rather sombre atmosphere, sparkling with candles - a huge contrast to the costume parties and rollicking debauchery of Halloween! So what exactly is All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day?
In the Christian calendar, All Saints' Day on November 1st is a day of dedicated prayer for the souls of saints and martyrs.
All Souls' Day on November 2nd is a day of general prayer for all other Christian souls:  family, friends and loved-ones. However, since November 1st is a public holiday, most people will focus their prayers and customs on All Saints' Day. In Poland and many other devout nations across Europe, the tradition is for families to visit the graves of the dearly-departed, light a candle, lay flowers or a wreath and say a prayer. The burning light of the candle flame is meant as comfort for souls languishing in the darkness of purgatory. Other practices around this calendar event (and arguably from a more pagan influence in Western Christianity) involve the charity of handing out small cakes and sweet-bread to the poor and young children as a 'soul-cleansing' measure. This would, of course, further increase your chances of getting into heaven!  Over the centuries, this has evolved into the corporate anomaly of Halloween as it is known in North-American society.
All Saints' Day in Gniezno, Poland. Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA
All Saints' Day in the cemetery of Gniezno, 200km south of Gdańsk.  This is typical of any Polish cemetary on the evening of November 1st.
Photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.
But we digress... All Saints' Day in Poland is a very important holiday, so much so that only transport and emergency service staff are expected to work – don’t be surprised to find your favourite hostelry bolted shut for the night. That's not to say that there won't be something happening on October 31st. Indeed, Halloween is fast catching on in Poland and you’ll find numerous parties scheduled for the usual expat haunts. However, if you want to experience genuine tradition, visit a nearby cemetery on the evening of November 1st. You may not think that lurking around a graveyard in the dark is the best way to spend an evening, but it’s incredibly beautiful to see the cemeteries lit up by candles all night long. While we could wax poetic about the unearthly glow of the immense candlelight, the murmur of prayer and psalms, the subtle smells of the incense, fresh flowers and burning wax, the shades of ravens in the trees, the wet grass and mists, and the surreal duality of the supernaturally charged, yet tranquil atmosphere, we’d prefer you just experience it for yourself. Remember to take a candle along with you!

Practical Info for All Saints' Day in Gdańsk

Note that November 1st ​​​​is a bank holiday (and falls on a Friday in 2019); only public transportation and emergency response employees are obliged to work this day, so don’t be surprised to find your favourite shop, restaurant or bar bolted shut. Gdańsk's Catholic cemeteries, in contrast, will be open until last guest, with special tramlines running frequently and until late at night in order to accommodate visitors. Use gdansk.jakdojade.pl to find connections, or simply follow the crowds. Don't worry, candles of all varieties can be bought outside the cemetery gates, as well as flowers - fresh or fake, traditional sweets and roasted nuts.
All Saints' Day in Gdańsk

 

Where to go to experience All Saints Day in Gdańsk?

OLIWA CEMETERY
Arguably the most picturesque cemetery in Gdańsk is in the leafy district of Oliwa. It's the city's third-largest cemetery, dating back to 1832. Amidst the trees and old tombstones from an era-passed, there is no better place in the city to experience the sombre atmosphere that a late afternoon walk through a graveyard lit by thousands upon thousands of flickering candles can create. Find this cemetery to the north of Oliwa Park.

 

CEMETERY OF THE LOST CEMETERIES
While it may sound like a title for another Indiana Jones sequel, the namesake of this cemetery is quite important. The site is dedicated to the citizens of Gdańsk who were once buried in one of the city’s 27 graveyards either destroyed during WWII or bulldozed on purpose after the end of the war. the new Cemetery of Lost Cemeteries was designed to resemble a temple. The main memorial is surrounded by broken gravestones representing all faiths, and includes a poem by the Jewish poet Masha Kaleko (1912-1975), whose poetry was burnt on the direct orders of Hitler in May 1933. A particularly moving site to visit during November 1st.  Find this cemetery between The Church Of Corpus Christi and Gdańsk Główny Bus Station.

 

JEWISH CEMETERY IN CHEŁM
Whilst the Jewish community do not observe All Saints' Day, you will find some candles in Jewish graveyards such as the one in Chełm. The candles you see are most likely placed by people extending their prayers outside of their normal circle of faith, which is a beautiful gesture nevertheless. The cemetery itself dates back to 1694 and is an interesting visit nevertheless. To get there from Gdańsk Old Town: Catch Bus 154 or 189 from Brama Wyżynna 04 on the edge of and go two stops (Elmet 02). Get out and cross over the Raduni Canal, turn right and follow the road around to the right. Eventually you will see the entry to the cemetery. To get back, return to the main road and catch the same bus from the stop on the opposite side!

Where to see All Saints' Day in Gdańsk

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